Boxers Take EA's Corner In Fight Night Suit, As Others Oppose

In the latest developments in a $15 million suit against EA, boxers who signed with licensing group Fighters Inc. are split between supporting their league and supporting EA and lucrative Fight Night licensing deals.
Fighters Inc., a licensing organization representing boxers, filed suit against Electronic Arts in early September this year, claiming that EA illegitimately used fighters' likenesses in the summer video game Fight Night Round 4. Now, certain Fighters Inc. boxers have filed declarations with a California U.S. District Court supporting a preliminary injunction against the game. But another group of Fighters Inc. boxers who signed with EA and appeared in Fight Night Round 4 are in the publisher's corner. Heavyweight fighter Shannon Briggs, Ring Super Bantamweight champ Israel Vazquez, and former boxer Aaron Pryor are among the fighters who signed a group licensing deal with plaintiff Fighters Inc., and who are siding with the group in its complaint against EA. Fighters Inc. says its goal is to "increase the respect, presence, marketing and earning power" of its boxers. Briggs, Vazquez, and Pryor were not included in Fight Night Round 4, but they would have stood to benefit from licensing deals involving other Fighters Inc. members. The complaint said that Fighters Inc. boxers share licensing revenues "equally," while the organization keeps 15-20 percent for operations. Fighters Inc. said it believes that EA sold 1.4 million copies of Fight Night Round 4 (EA said it sold 1.5 million units in its first three months), and generated $77 million in revenues. Fighters Inc. said by allegedly circumventing the licensing group, the game publisher "thereby profited at the expense of Fighters Inc." The organization is suing EA for $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages, claiming that EA's actions threatened the group's "existence and viability." The organization also requested a preliminary and permanent injunction against the sale and distribution of Fight Night Round 4. Fighters Inc.'s group licensing agreement says that if a licensee is to use three or more Fighters Inc. members in conjunction with products including video games, the licensee must go through Fighters Inc. to sign a deal. The company was formed by managing member Chip Meyers in 2007. In new documents filed this week, the three fighters agreed to testify against EA if necessary. The complaint accuses EA of violating the Lanham trademark act, intentional interference with contract, and violations of the right of publicity. But not all of the Fighters Inc. members are lining up to side with the licensing group. In a September 21 filing, EA opposed the requested preliminary injunction, calling Fighters Inc. "a virtually unknown entity that has been essentially dormant for two years." Attached were declarations in support of EA from Fighters Inc. boxers who were actually included in Fight Night Round 4, and who were paid directly by EA to use their images, voices, and likenesses: Kelly Pavlik, Jorge Arce, and Fernando Montiel. Because the small group constituted "three or more" members of Fighters Inc., the licensing organization said EA should have gone through Fighters Inc. for any licensing deals. EA instead approached fighters directly. Fighters Inc.'s original complaint alleged that EA Sports athlete talent relations director Sandy Sandoval "dangled money in front of six or more individual [Fighters Inc.] boxers and, on information and belief, informed them that they could earn more money by breaching their agreements with Fighters Inc." The complaint also alleged that Sandoval "dared" Fighters Inc. to sue EA. EA contends that the fighters never violated their agreement with Fighters Inc., claiming that the group licensing agreement signed by the fighters didn't restrict them from signing directly with EA. Fighters Inc. called EA's opposition to the preliminary injunction "meritless."

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